I work at JPL. From time to time, I’m asked to interview people applying for a job. So what do I look for?

By the time we meet, you have a few advanced degrees, a track record of success, a few spectacular failures, and somehow bludgeoned your way through our HR department. Your resume is saturated with moonshots and satisfied customers. You have a favorite planet and have at least one set of nice-ish clothes. You probably saw The Martian and thought, “I should go work at JPL!”

Whiteboard, schmiteboard. Are your pupils the same size? If so, we might as well throw you in the deep end and see how you do.

Tourettes? No problem. Transgender, purple hair, and piercings? That’s practically normal in LA in the 20th century. Single parent of 3? Again, no biggie. Depressed and disgruntled? Also normal for the spectrum-y people we love. We have good mental health coverage.

But, are you a good fit? To Brian Scudamore’s Beer & BBQ tests, I add …

Independence: in a firm with 3,000 specialist engineers, nobody but you will be the expert in what you do, so you’d better be able to move fast as an individual and to explain what you do to the rest of the team. The standard JPL tactic is to recognize you’ve been asked the wrong question, so you make up the right question and then answer it in addition.

Ego test: Does she believe enough in the mission to work within this massive, and at times staggeringly inefficient, government bureaucracy? You’re going to get kicked in the teeth. A lot. And you’ll be on your own. Your clarity of vision and intestinal fortitude will sustain you through repeated failures. It helps if you can appreciate tragic irony, because it takes 20 or 30 years to do a space mission, and there’s a lot of disappointment along the way.

Principal test: Could she be promoted to the Principal careel level? Will she become good enough at something that people will seek out her advice and assistance?

Obituary test: When she dies, will anybody miss her? Will she mentor, encourage, and create opportunities for the next generation?

Beer test: Would you want to have a conversation with her over a beer? Will listening to her ideas make you smarter?

BBQ test: Would you invite this person to your house for an afternoon BBQ? When the going gets tough, will you still want her on the island?

So … how do you get an interview? I don’t know. Maybe there’s a web site?

aerospace engineer: failure is not an option -- it's inevitable. physicist: the universe is weird. entrepreneur: the glass has the potential to be filled.

aerospace engineer: failure is not an option -- it's inevitable. physicist: the universe is weird. entrepreneur: the glass has the potential to be filled.